La Surprise by Jean-Antoine Watteau, expected to fetch £3m-5m at Christie’s in July.

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In the corner of the drawing room of an English country house hung La Surprise by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), a painting lost for 200 years and presumed destroyed.

It was only known through a copy in the Royal Collection in Buckingham Palace and a near contemporary engraving.

La Surprise was painted c.1718, probably for its first owner Nicolas Henin (1691-1724), adviser to the French King and friend of Watteau. It is likely that the work was painted for Henin together with its pendant L'Accord Parfait, now in the Los Angeles Museum of Art.

When Henin died in 1724, the two paintings went to the artist's friend and biographer Jean de Julienne (1686-1766), who had them engraved and published in the Recueil Julienne, but who seems to have split the pair and sold them before 1756.

La Surprise next appears in the collection of Ange-Laurent de La Live de Jully (1725-1779) and was published in a catalogue of his collection in 1764.

By 1770 the painting had left the collection and, following the tumult of revolution, next emerged in 1848 in Lady Murray's probate valuation. She bequeathed it to the family of the present owners who knew nothing of its attribution until last year.

The painting, which is in excellent condition, will be exhibited in New York from April 10-14 and at Christie's King Street salerooms in London from July 5-8. It is expected to fetch £3m to £5m at Christie's July 8 Important Old Master and British Pictures sale at the King Street saleroom.

By Anna Brady